Home Local News Civil Rights Activist Joyce Ladner Will Highlight Upcoming MLK Festivities in Madison

Civil Rights Activist Joyce Ladner Will Highlight Upcoming MLK Festivities in Madison


The Madison/Dane County Martin Luther King Coalition is looking forward to hosting Joyce Ladner, a noted civil rights activist, author, sociologist who will be the keynote speaker for the 35th Annual City-County King Holiday Observance to cap off an exciting MLK weekend of events. 

“We are really excited to be hosting Joyce Ladner. She has a long history of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and has had a long career as a distinguished sociologist and as an author,” says the Urban League of Greater Madison’s Ed Lee, who is co-chairing the King Coalition.

Both Lee and Gloria Hawkins have been co-chairing the King Coalition, established in the fall of 1985 as a community group to plan the official City of Madison and Dane County observances of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, for over two decades.  Over the years, they have brought many famous and inspiring civil rights leaders to Madison.

“It’s really inspiring to get to hear the stories from folks who have been involved in civil rights work for a lifetime and particularly stories from people who were really active in the ‘60s, and ‘70s,” Lee says. “It’s inspirational to hear from them for me, personally. That’s part of what I really enjoy being involved in this.”

The numerous King Coalition events encourage the people of Dane County to reaffirm their commitment to building a just community out of our racial, religious and economic diversity.

“It’s just a great opportunity to reflect and connect with people in the community who share that same commitment to justice and equality,” Lee says.

Ladner was on the front line of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, working alongside Bayard Rustin and other civil rights leaders that organized the March on Washington in 1963. She was on the stage when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech. As a teenager, Ladner helped organize an NAACP Youth Chapter in her hometown. She was expelled from college for organizing a civil rights protest and jailed for attempting to integrate an all-white church. 

As a sociologist, Ladner was a pioneer in the study of the intersectionality of race, gender and class. Her book, “Tomorrow’s Tomorrow: The Black Woman” was the first book published in African American Women’s Studies and is now an American classic.

“She was active in organizing the March on Washington and helped found an NAACP chapter when she was a teenager, and she worked alongside a lot of the other well-known civil rights leaders,” Lee says. “We’re really excited to be able to bring her to town and have her be able to share some of her amazing experiences and listen to some of her observations about today’s struggles for civil rights.”

On Monday, Jan. 20, 6 p.m., she will keynote the 35th Annual City of Madison & Dane County observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday at the Overture Center. The night will kick off with “Freedom Songs Sing-in” from 5:00 to 5:45 p.m. in the Rotunda of the Overture Center.  The Observance will also feature a presentation of the Madison-Dane County Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

All of the events are very welcoming, free of charge and open to the community.

“The weekend kicks off with a free community dinner at Gordon Dining and Event Center. We’ve been getting anywhere between 600-700 people at the dinner,” Lee says. “It’s a low-key opportunity to sit down and break bread and connect with old friends and meet new friends.

“The event where Joyce will speak is the culmination on Monday night,” he adds. “In between there, we have quite a bit going on.”

Other King Coalition hosted events include:

The King Coalition’s 33rd Annual Free Community Dinner will take place Friday, Jan. 17, 4:30-7 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Gordon Dining and Event Center, 770 W. Dayton St.  Community members enjoy a wonderful meal with friends, old and new, in Dr. King’s spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood. Free shuttle bus service to and from the dinner will be available.  

MLK Free Community Dinner

The MLK Ecumenical Service will be held Sunday, Jan. 19, 4:30 p.m. at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher St., Clergy from several different faiths will participate in this nondenominational service.

◉ The MLK Community Choir, led by one of Madison’s most noted music directors – Leotha Stanley, will perform at the City-County Observance. Participation in the choir is open to all interested individuals. No registration or audition is required; interested individuals need only attend the two upcoming rehearsals.  Rehearsals will be on Tuesday, January 14, 7 p.m. and Saturday, Jan.18, at 11 a.m. at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2019 Fisher St.

The MLK Day Youth Call to Service will take place Monday, Jan. 20, at the Madison Public Library. It will include free lunch, interactive workshops, a brief march around the capitol, and participation in the Freedom Sing-In at the Overture Center. Workshop topics will include youth volunteerism, history of the civil rights movement, the role of music in the civil rights movement, and more. In addition to the King Coalition, the event is co-hosted by the City of Madison, Dane County, MSCR, Madison Out of School Time (MOST), Madison Public Library, United Way of Dane County, and the Urban League of Greater Madison.

MLK Youth Day Of Service
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)In addition to King Coalition hosted events, other activities commemorating the King Holiday include:

◉ The 2nd Annual MLK Forum For Social Action will take place at the Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2 p.m. Featuring Percy Brown Jr. with special guests Judge Everett Mitchell, Noah Anderson and Marlon Anderson. The event is sponsored by Madison365, Critical Consciousness and DCEC.

I Have a Dream Scholarship Ball will be hosted by Women In Focus on Saturday, Jan. 18. This annual Ball raises money to provide college scholarships to deserving students. The festive evening will be held at the Monona Terrace, beginning at 6 p.m.  Visit womeninfocusmadison.org for more info.

Members of Women in Focus Inc. celebrate at the annual MLK “I Have a Dream” Ball.

The 36th Annual Urban League Youth Recognition Breakfast will be held Sunday, Jan. 20, 7:45 a.m., Edgewood High School, 2219 Monroe Street. Nearly 200 students will be recognized for their outstanding academic accomplishments and community services. Additionally, the 2020 Betty Franklin-Hammonds Scholarships will be presented, the Madison Metropolitan School District will announce the 2020 Mann Scholars, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority will announce their 2020 Creative Writing contest winners.  Tickets are available for $10 online at www.ulgm.org/mlkevents or by calling (608) 729-1200.

“We are really hoping for great attendance at the events including packing the Capitol Theatre on Monday night,” Lee says. “Two important messages that we’re trying to get across this year – and we will have folks with information at all of our events about it – is about the census taking place in 2020 and the need to get everybody registered to exercise their right to vote in 2020. Those are two really important themes that we are trying to focus on this year.”